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In Our Words: Give it up for the teachers

"Our school staff and teachers deserve all the respect we can muster - and at the earliest possible convenience, we should, as a province, make it absolutely rain on them."
Bill 64, also called the "Education Modernization Act", was formally announced by the Progressive Conservatives in March.

School isn’t quite in session yet in Manitoba - not as we’ve known it, at least. For the first week of the post-New Years’ part of the school year, most students will be taking part in class through remote learning.

Those last two words probably sent a chill down the spines of most parents who just read them. It isn’t the first time during the pandemic that parents have been made to supervise their kids while they learn or teach them certain lessons - my own informal count tells me this is maybe the third or fourth time already. I don’t know a single family that enjoys it - it’s more of an unfortunate sign of the times, a fact of life that suddenly, parents become proctors as the kids tackle work packages their teachers have already assembled.

I’m not writing this column about whether it’s smart to return to school remotely first or whether it’s not, whether it’s good or bad for kids and parents, whether kids should all go back to class now or whether they should stay home for the foreseeable future. I’m not a researcher, I don’t have answers to that and I don’t have kids - on the surface, I have no qualifications or firsthand knowledge germane to this subject. I suppose I could do the typical columnist thing and wander off half-cocked into a subject I know nothing about (been there, done that) but that’s not what I want to bring up.

What I want to bring up is what I’ve heard from friends of mine who have tried to play teacher at home with their kids and how much of a pain it is, how hard and tedious it can be. Playing teacher ain’t easy.

I hope everyone remembers that feeling post-COVID-19 and does everything they can to make teachers’ lives better. Our school staff and teachers deserve all the respect we can muster - and at the earliest possible convenience, we should, as a province, make it absolutely rain on them.

Throughout the pandemic, teachers and school staff have had to roll with the punches unlike any other year - first moving to an online-only class plan, then a mixed plan with both online and in-person components, then full in-person with distancing, masks, cohorting and enough hand sanitizer to make Howie Mandel squirm.

Then after that, they went online again, then back to mixed, then back to in-person, then mixed, then back to in-person… and now, they’re back to a mixed curriculum.

Each of those changes means changing plans for weeks of daily classes, setting up new equipment, trying to accommodate students who don’t have access to decent technology or internet. When students come back to school in-person, suddenly the teachers are tasked with rebuilding a shattered class routine, filling in any missing links in the education for the students, making sure they aren’t falling behind or afraid. Kids could have a much wider gap in knowledge and skills when they come back to class than anyone would ever assume possible from one week at home - and teachers will be tasked with picking up that slack.

It can’t be easy.

That’s not to mention the ongoing spectre of a provincial government, known already for its hatchet-wielding ways in other portfolios, running with scissors around Manitoba’s education plans in recent years. Bill 64 died a short and justifiably painful death last year, but only a fool would think that as soon as it’s convenient or possible, another bill just like it will show up on the floor of the Legislature. You could set your watch to it.

It’s worth remembering for a very long time that while dealing with your own little snotgoblins for just a day’s worth of school can be enough to break some parents, your kid’s teachers have to deal with that five full days a week, 200 days a year. They don’t get paid nearly enough - less than $40,000 a year fresh out of school in Winnipeg, if data I’ve found from the Winnipeg Teachers’ Association is to be believed. They’re underresourced - stories of teachers having to buy their own supplies out-of-pocket are such legion at this point that the teachers I know barely think twice about doing it. They’re overworked, spending their weekends marking papers and their evenings preparing lessons that they know they may have to tear up again and rewrite tomorrow.

It’s also worth noting that many of these teachers have kids and families of their own - they’ve got the same issues that parents usually outside the education system have. Imagine having to teach a class of kids remotely and provide lesson plans, while being at home teaching your own children a plan you didn’t prepare.

So many jobs and tasks in today’s world seem like they’re done just for their own sake, to make money for some fatcat you’ll never meet, to keep the giant cogwheels of the economy or bureaucracy going. Why not take our shared experience and provide everything we can to the most real, the most important, the most delicate task we have as a society - educating the coming generations, taking care of the kids?

I had some very good teachers growing up in Flin Flon. Not all were perfect people, but all tried their best to teach me what they knew. I didn’t always listen and I didn’t always care, but these people were still there for me whenever I could come around. I’m thankful for them, for everything they shared, and whenever I shuffle off the ol’ mortal coil, I’ll likely still feel the same. Plenty of those teachers are still around, handing out the work packages, doing Zoom meetings and Google hangouts and learning a whole new way of interacting with their students on the fly.

Teachers give their best. They deserve the best from us in return. Let’s pay it forward. It’s only fair.